13 Mar 2023
by Harini Gokul

Women get mentors, men get sponsors   

The technology industry has traditionally been male-dominated, but over the past few years, we have seen a positive shift in the gender balance in the sector.  However, these hard earned gains are now at risk.   

Research reveals that post-COVID, women leaders are switching jobs and leaving the workforce at the highest rates we have ever seen. This has serious consequences for companies. Women are already underrepresented in leadership. Now, companies are struggling to hold onto the women leaders they have. And these dynamics are even more pronounced for women of colour.  

In the U.K, women make up around a quarter of the UK tech workforce, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics. While this is an improvement from previous years, it is still a low number. Similarly, women only make up around 18% of the UK tech workforce in leadership roles, which means that there are fewer role models for women to aspire to. This lack of representation can be particularly discouraging for women who are starting their careers in tech.  

In a nutshell, there are not enough women because they are not paid enough and they are not promoted fast enough. which means women leave the workforce and so there are fewer senior women. According to 2022 UK government data, the gender pay gap across the UK is 14.9% in favour of all male employees. Furthermore, according to a study by PWC, three out of five women returning to the workforce will move to a lower skill role which immediately reduces their earnings by a third and exacerbating the lack of leadership representation.   

Companies need to do more to address gender inequality in their own workplaces. They need to do more to retain the leaders they already have. And they need to get more women into leadership.   

There are many initiatives and organisations that are working to change this, and we are proud to be working with TechUK as one those organisations. These groups offer mentoring and networking opportunities for women in tech and organise events and workshops to encourage more women to pursue careers in the sector. And we need to take this a step further.   

Retaining the leaders we already have starts by supporting their growth ambitions. It has been my experience that too often, men receive sponsors, while women receive mentors. A mentor offers guidance and advice - which is valuable - but a sponsor can offer a seat at the table and use their influence and power to help a new voice be heard. Companies need to be intentional in sponsoring their female talent. At Entrust, I am proud to be working in a company with such a strong female representation, and sponsorship at all levels with our CEO setting the tone from the top.   

To get more women into leadership, there are many challenges that need to be overcome. One of the biggest challenges is addressing the bias that exists within the hiring process. Research has shown that women are often overlooked for tech roles, even when they have the necessary qualifications and experience. This can be due to unconscious bias on the part of recruiters or hiring managers, or that job descriptions are often written in a way that is more appealing to men than women. We need to address this by writing more inclusive job descriptions, requiring diverse interview slates, and addressing unconscious bias among interviewers.   

Another challenge is the lack of support for women who are returning to work after a career break. As a mother of an 8 year old, I know from personal experience that women who have taken time out to raise children or care for family members can find it difficult to re-enter the workforce or grow at the same velocity as their male colleagues. This became especially apparent during COVID, when during lockdowns, women took on the majority of the additional family workload. Companies need to do more to support these women, for example by offering return-to-work programmes or flexible working arrangements. It is important that employees who choose flexible remote- or hybrid-work options get the same support and growth opportunities as on-site employees.    

We need to #EmbraceEquity and do more, urgently, to ensure that women are fully represented and supported in the UK technology industry. Companies need to be proactive in addressing gender inequality in their workplaces, and initiatives and organisations that support women in tech need greater visibility and support. By working together, we can create a more diverse and inclusive tech sector that benefits everyone.   

techUK is marching forward to close the tech gender gap in 2023. Throughout March, coinciding with International Women’s Day (IWD 2023) on 8 March, we are exploring how we embrace equitable workplaces. The UN’s theme for IWD 2023 focuses on Digital for All or DigitALL, and we are proud to support this.

For more information, please visit our Women in Tech hub.

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Harini Gokul

Harini Gokul

Chief Customer Officer, Entrust